Winner Take All

Last night we were treated to another Game Seven in the World Series. The Astros vanquished the Dodgers, and are now the 2017 World Champions. Among other things, the Dodgers had trouble with John Smoltz’s third key to the game. Junk analysis aside, it was an unforgettable series, with two of the most back-and-forth games ever seen in a World Series. Even before the Dodgers forced Game Seven on Tuesday night, this year’s series was among few others for consideration as the best ever, so it was perhaps fitting that it went the distance. Game Sevens have had an undeniable mystique, and this remains true despite them being fairly common recently: four of the last seven World Series have been pushed to the limit.

All Game Sevens are exciting events, not just those in the World Series. We just saw a Game Seven in the ALCS and it did not in any way reduce excitement for last night’s game – although the cumulative effect may have taken a year-or-two off of Astros’ fans lifespans. Of note for Red Sox fans, which I presume most of you reading this are, is that the Red Sox have been involved in many of the Game Sevens in baseball history.

According to data on The Baseball Gauge the Red Sox have played in 9 of the 55 deciding* Game Sevens that have happened since 1903, which is third most:


Game Seven Entries





Red Sox




Dodgers (BRO), Tigers, Giants (SF)


Three teams tied with


Seven teams tied with


Four teams tied with


Eight teams tied with


It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the franchises with many Game Sevens in their history have (a) been in existence for a long time, and (b) typically put competitive, playoff-caliber teams on the field. Last night’s finale of the 2017 World Series was the third Game Seven for the Houston Astros franchise and the Los Angeles version of the Dodgers franchise.

The Red Sox haven’t just ambled through their Game Sevens; they have been a part of some standout series enders.

The Red Sox haven’t just ambled through their Game Sevens; they have been a part of some standout series enders. Three of the their Game Sevens (2003 ALCS, 1946 WS, and 1975 WS) are among the top 11 Game Sevens as defined by total win probability added (WPA), everyone’s favourite stat-de-jour, which provides a sense of the frequency and magnitude of the back-and-forth swings in a game. Now, it is understandable if Red Sox fans don’t hold any of those three games in high esteem, as each ended in a crushing loss. I still cringe every time I see that damn Aaron Boone home run soaring into the New York night.

The Red Sox being on the wrong end of exciting series finales continues to their fourth (2008 ALCS) and fifth (1986 WS) most back-and-forth Game Sevens, which rank 22nd and 25th all time by the total WPA measure. This trend is driven mostly by the fact that Red Sox teams were on the wrong end of the majority of their Game Sevens, posting a 3-6 record. As it turns out, when the Red Sox won, the games were pretty one-sided. Just as they have three games in the top 11 by total WPA, they have three in the bottom 13 (2004 ALCS, 1986 ALCS, and 1967 WS), which include two of their three wins. While this is an interesting little note, I am certain players, coaches, staff, and fans would rather their team win an easy one than lose a back-and-forth exciting one. I doubt the Astros are any less happy today after winning fairly easily last night.

Last night’s Game Seven gave me the occasion to look into the Red Sox history in such contests. As we have seen, or perhaps already knew, it is not great. The Red Sox are really more of a Game Six franchise. They are 11-3 in Game Sixes since 1903. Carlton Fisk’s heroics in 1975 and Curt Schilling’s bloody sock in 2004 came in Game Sixes. But, yes of course, Bill Buckner’s error in 1986 came in a Game Six. Interestingly, only three of those 11 Game Six wins was a series clincher, so the Red Sox have shown they know how to force a Game Seven, but don’t have a solid grasp on how to win a Game Seven. Here’s hoping they have a chance to improve on their Game Seven record in 2018.

* the 1903, 1912, 1919 and 1921 World Series each had eight games.

Photo by Thomas B. Shea – USA TODAY Sports

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